Review: The Open City by Richard Senett

What is ‘Open City’? How liberal is your city to the different sects of society? Are you public spaces sensitive to all and truly ‘public’? We need to think deep on this issue. We want to thrive in a city that is clean, safe and possess efficient public services. Our cities are believed to have a healthy economy and take the varied socio-cultural groups into consideration. But how much of this is true in the present times?

City for all

Most of our cities today revolve around the preferences of the influential sects. As a result, the urban poor has no say in the way cities have developed. Ironically, we can see maximum efforts being put in development which is going to cater to the minimum of the population. Roads make up most of our cities, leaving no space for pedestrian traffic. Thus, the ‘City’ experience also revolves around creating the best road infrastructure, while no attention is paid to mass public transit systems and public spaces.

This essay by Richard Sennett tries to think about various issues associated with the urbanization of the spaces. It tries to highlight the fact that private modes of transport are responsible for the decline in the quality of urban spaces and that Motorists traffic dominates Pedestrians. Moreover, it highlights how the perception of the ‘city’ has changed and how more cars and less public spaces impact the overall fabric of the city.

Closed City

Cities today have become more ‘closed’ – segregated and controlled within boundaries. The idea of an ideal city is limited to being clean, safe and efficient. Hence, the idea of ‘embracing’ the city often gets lost in this process. Therefore, the process of creating a ‘liveable’ city is lost. Through this essay, Richard Sennett tries to inculcate a thought that we need an ‘Open City’ where citizens can actively participate the cityscape and spaces in the city can become a common platform for people with diverse backgrounds and cultures to experience the urban space.

Open City

The idea of an open city is more about thinking innovative ways to counter the ill effects in the planning. What happens to cityscape when our streets are congested with traffic and crowd? Do our cities have buffer spaces to ‘decongest’ the urban congestion? An open city id one that provides equal opportunities of experiencing the city to all. Therefore, An open city, irrespective of the race and economical background helps everyone city dweller to ‘live’ space.

The issue

The issue with today’s planning is the lack of innovation in urban planning. We need to have spaces that help to establish a sense of connection between the population. The developing authorities have just resorted to ‘build’ the spaces. How can these spaces be opened up? They can be and made more ‘public’ friendly. We need to think about how can certain design techniques establish a visual connection between the inside and the outside. How can we bridge the gap in the design sense? This is what we have to take in to account for the urban planning from now on.

Key Learnings

‘Modernism’ has led to the fading away of ‘openness’. The advent of mono-function shopping malls, gated communities and other mixed-use developments built as isolated campuses; brought an end to the vibrant streetscapes. This has led to a lack of innovation. At times, we ignore our cityscapes. Furthermore, the zoning and master planning nowadays has made ‘City’ quiet monotonous. City planning has turned out to be mere placement and zoning of buildings, roads and flyovers, leaving no scope for history and existing urban fabrics. Therefore, understanding of the social systems and cultural significances must be included in planning a more ‘open’ city.

The cityscapes must be planned in accordance with the need of each of the sect of society. Cities are scaling up on a global level, and hence the scope of planning and infrastructure keeps on growing. Hence, It would be then a challenge to integrate the new needs, identities and cultural changes along with the design. Thus, this would mean a sustainable development and lead to the establishment of a city that is more ‘open’ and more relatable to all.

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Sudarshan Uppunda
Sudarshan Uppunda
Born & brought up in Bombay, based in Bengaluru, Sudarshan is an ambivert who can be outgoing-open and reserved at the same time. It all depends on the vibes! He deeply believes in vibes and personal energies. As an Architectural Journalist and Architect, he aims to write in a way that his content is relatable for all. Design is what interests him the most and he keeps trying his hand at different design verticals such as graphic, UI & UX design at times. He likes to write and explore varied topics on Workplace environments, Architecture, and Culture. He is quite active in architectural content writing and has written for various platforms like RTF, The Arch Insider, Gharpedia, etc. He strongly believes that whatever one does in life, one must do it with passion & be happy with it.

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